Masse Fights for Windsor Issues and Industry in House
December 5th, 2006 - 5:52pm
Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak today on Bill C-24.
It is important that we acknowledge the work of the NDP member for Burnaby—New Westminster on this file. He has advocated for many hours to try to get a better deal and improve the current situation.
Sadly, we have not seen the significant changes that would have actually made this a bill that we as New Democrats could support. As well, the bill shows the real weakness of current government policy. As the NDP critic for industry and Canada-U.S. border relations, I can say that this is very significant not only in the context of this particular file, but also in regard to the precedent set by this move.
I want to begin my remarks by noting that the previous Liberal government's administration had been working on the softwood file for a number of years before this deal. The Liberals had not progressed very far, hence we had the workings of the member who is currently the Minister of International Trade, a Liberal at that time and the minister of industry. He started this process before he crossed the floor and he tried to bring a similar deal to the table. It was a deal that I think really spelled out the framework of what we currently have right now, which is really an abominable position to take. It is an outright and complete capitulation of Canadian sovereignty in trade negotiations and it will have long-ranging impacts.
The softwood agreement is also counter to the way that this country has lived up to NAFTA as well as the challenges that we have had in the Canada-U.S. relationship over the years. Despite having a significant series of losses in manufacturing and other types of industry related to the implementation of NAFTA, we have lived up to the agreement. Canada has followed the rules and has done what is right. That has led us to a point right now where our partner, the United States, has determined unilaterally to take a different direction, basically casting that and the agreement out, along with the mechanism process that was supposed to be there for dispute resolution. That is fairly significant.
I want to underline a few things in my comments. We have seen past Liberal governments, as well the current Conservative government, try to profess this myth out there that there is a so-called free trade area or world trade market. They say that if we have open markets and if we compete the hardest, that is all it takes to be victorious, to be champion, and then we will just have to lower corporate taxes to be successful.
That is not the case. In fact, even within our current agreements we have interventions by states and also at the federal level in the United States on a series of industries, which they use to protect employment in manufacturing based industries.
It is important to note that even with an agreement under NAFTA, under which we were supposed to have this dispute resolution, that is where we lost a significant edge in one of the most important and historic manufacturing industries in Canada. It was something that really set the standard for negotiations as a country that matured and was able to increase market share: the Auto Pact.
The Auto Pact is something very near and dear to the hearts of those constituents who live in Windsor-Essex County as well as Oshawa, Oakville and other manufacturing based areas that had new entry access to the American market, based upon a system of fair, principled trade. It was an agreement that was set up to be advantageous not only in terms of our industries here but also to be helpful with the United States in growing the industry at a time when we had world market share very much in our favour.
Something appalling happened during the negotiations. We were promised that the Auto Pact would be fine and would be protected, that nothing was going to take away from what we had. We were going to continue to be on the cutting edge of automotive research, development, advancement and assembly.
We were told that those jobs that every year paid millions of dollars into the coffers of this country were going to continue to be there. Those were good jobs. Through those jobs, we advanced a number of different workplace initiatives by some of the strong, progressive CAW workplace amendments, so that workers were safer and more productive and also received more training.
As well, we expanded the industry so that when there were new products coming forth we would be the ones who would capitalize on that and we would not simply become a dumping zone.
It was promised that the trade agreement would continue to be successful through the new free trade agreement. Later on, the United States challenged it and we lost. What did Canada do? It complied. Canada lived up to the agreement, to what it had signed with its partners. We knew the tremendous damage that it would have on our economy and on working class Canadians, our brothers and sisters who were raising their families, making a decent living, saving for pensions and paying an incredible amount of tax in this country. We were giving up and surrendering that.
Since then, we have witnessed the decline in auto sales, manufacturing and assembly. Canada has gone from fourth to eighth with regard to production and we will continue to slip if we do not have an auto policy.
Something that is ironic in all of this is that Bill C-24 was initially introduced by the Minister of International Trade when he was a Liberal and carried on when he was a Conservative. However, he has never lived up to the much promised auto strategy that he promised the committee and myself in the chamber a number of different times. He did not deliver on that in the recent budget. Not a single initiative whatsoever was moved on that file. He did it for trade and he is doing it with the Korea trade deal, which is another one I will touch on a bit later, but he did not do it for the auto sector.
We gave up this golden opportunity that had flourished in Canada because we believed in the rules and accepted the fate of the rules on this particular industry and our country. This bill is an utter capitulation of the system, the rules of engagement and the terms and conditions because the U.S. did not like the results of those rules, despite the many times we went through court challenges, all the evidence that was presented and the work we did with progressive industry forces in the United States.
I was part of a lobby group that went to Washington in 2003 and met with the Home Builders' Associations and organizations that recognized that the artificial increase of lumber pricing in the United States because of the industry greed on that side was a detriment to many of their citizens because they could not manufacture and produce homes at a level citizens could afford. This artificial increase and denying market access for Canadian products at a competitive level was something that U.S. citizens did not support and wanted changed.
We had a series of different taxation policies that punished Canadian companies. As this process continued, we fought many times in the chamber about how to support the industry through loans and other supports, such as research training, so that at the end of the process we would go back to the successful industry that we had.
It is important to note at this time what is happening in the industry. I have a research paper that was provided to the industry, science and technology committee entitled “Challenges Facing the Canadian Manufacturing Sector: Forestry Products and Furniture Industries. We witnessed a decline in that sector which has lost a lot of really good paying jobs, as well as jobs that have historically been in Canada.
One of the charts, the perfect storm, identifies what has been happening in this industry over a period of time. It mentions the fact that the Canadian dollar has increased over 35% since January 2003 and that its rapid acceleration was due to the natural resource exportation of the oil and gas industry to the United States and other countries. This led to the rapid increase of the Canadian dollar at the expense of other manufacturers. Historically, this has never been faced before. Some would say that the Canadian industry should have been ready but that was impossible to predict in terms of the rapid acceleration and there was no support.
The second thing in the perfect storm was the culmination of the $5 billion of softwood duties paid. The industry faced $5 billion on top of that. Despite having a deal, we will not get all of the money back. What kind of a deal is it when we actually end up having to pay to get out of a deal that will be a bad deal in the end anyway? What kind of nonsense is it when we will be forking over $1 billion? Ironically, most of that money will go to the Bush administration, with no accountability in terms of how it allocates those funds. Other funds will go to subsidize the industry and the competition that we are facing. It will now have a resource to use to subsidize its industry versus our industry.
The third point is that the industry's energy costs have risen by 35%. I have an interesting statistic about pulp and paper and wood furniture products. The total production of pulp and paper products in Canada in 2005 was 5.1% lower than the peak production levels registered in 2000. In 2005, production of paper and paperboard declined by 4.4% and 6.1% respectively compared to the 2004 levels. We are watching it decline. Those three things punish the industry at this time.
What do we do? How do we fix this? We allow the Americans to keep $1 billion of those duties. That does not sound like much of a solution. It does not sound like much of a solution if Canadian citizens are losing out on that resource. It does not sound like much of a solution for the people currently employed in this industry if their foreign based competitors now have the cash resources to undermine their production.
Whether the Americans put the money into further efficiencies, into research and development, toward lowering the prices or to deal with energy costs, whatever it might be, they will now have an advantage. It does not make any sense. It is absolutely offensive that we would sign a deal that we must pay to get out of.
One of the things that I think really sticks in the minds of Canadians right now is this $1 billion and the fact that we could use those funds. We looked at the cuts in the last budget session and at how they have affected Canadian lives. For heaven's sake, if we take the ideology of the government, why would it not want to put another $1 billion on the national debt? I guess it wants to put $1 billion into the pockets of the forestry and lumber producers in the United States and the Bush administration. Is that the government's solution to the issues Canadians are facing today? I do not think so. I think it is alarming.
I must also note that in all of this the Bloc members have not been very successful in negotiating any changes to this bill. They have rationalized the reason why they are supporting it. I understand their pressures and decisions but we should have at least seen a counterpunch on the government for the support that it is receiving. I find that alarming because if we are to have a true building of perspective in this House of Commons we should see something. They could throw them a bone or something that would soften the blow on Canadian workers who are losing their jobs and on the industry itself and the future it faces.
I do want to go through a number of different things here that we are concerned about. One of them is really ironic.
Canadians can see how complicated the bill is and how much information it contains. It is an issue that has taken a number of different years to come through here. At the same time, the committee spent one week going through it for witnesses. How is that even possible, in a modern, functioning democracy, that we could only have one week's worth of witnesses? We have witnesses on a regular basis in our parliamentary committees who spend more time on less settled things. This bill was rammed through the committee stage, denying amendments and debate.
The Canadian public needs to understand that that is not good government. It is about trying to move an embarrassing situation along. Shutting down debate does not make any sense.
We have many friends in the United States and many of them do not support this particular bill because of what it does to our relationships. However, when the Americans actually signed on, through our current trade agreements, they received protectionism clauses.
In some of my earlier remarks I talked about how we lost the auto pact. However, in the actual trade agreement, the Americans have a whole series of protectionism measures for aerospace and bus manufacturing that literally take away the opportunities for Canada to expand these industries. The Americans have this because they decided it was in their national interest. The U.S. government thought enough of those particular industries and the value they added to manufacturing, to the employment base and to the future of the country that it said that free competition did not matter and which country made the best product or which country was the most efficient did not matter, that it would guarantee that the work would only happen in the U.S.
In our own country right now we cannot even decide that for our industry. We would rather capitulate. It does not make any sense. While our competitors are employing strategies, techniques and different types of measures to protect their industries, we cannot even support fairness for our own industries that must compete in that environment.
Another big concern I have is about where this goes. When I look at the bill and the measures in it, I worry about our wood manufacturing, the products, the post-production and having to take down the trees. The whole softwood industry is actually having some manufacturing base.
We only need to look at our oil and gas industries. Despite their billions and billions of dollars in record profits and the fact that they are also receiving subsidies, they put less than 0.8% of their money into research and development. The average national manufacturing industry, in terms of research and development, and other comparable industries invest a modest 4%. That is not good. That is a poor standard on OECD levels and compared with other developed nations. It is not a very good measure but at least it is at 4%.
Mr. Pat Martin: It is 500% more.
Mr. Brian Masse: The member for Winnipeg Centre said that it was 500% more.
All we do is export the natural resource, which hurts us on a number of different things. It hurts us on innovation. Because we do not do any of the research and development, refining industries are not being developed in Canada, which affects a series of other issues. We see the loss of jobs and the loss of good minds for research and development, who leave this country. We cannot attract the brightest and the best. On top of that, we lose on taxation on the secondary product as well. We allow somebody else to take all that.
I am worried that Bill C-24 will set up the same situation in the softwood industry, that we will just be the net supplier of the resource and that will be all we have to offer. However, I think Canadians believe that we can offer more, that we can be the ones to do the research and development, that we can create finished products of which people can be proud and that we can create jobs, not just in those particular industries, but which also lead to spinoffs. I believe Canadians want to be part of that process. It is not good enough for this country to become only an exporter of natural resources, and Bill C-24 leads us down that path.
In summary, I want to say something that is important to note. The Minister of International Trade is currently selling us out on a Korea deal where it is not fair trade. It worries me that this is the template. If we are giving up the ghost on this issue, what will we see on the Korea trade issue?
I have had meetings with the industry committee and industry staff related to the auto sector and under the Korea trade deal the auto industry is up on the block. We are continuing to trade and develop the trade initiatives that will cost more manufacturing jobs in our country by the setting up of a failed trade deal policy. Bill C-24 is really all about the failure of a government to protect its industry, which is about the natural resources of the men and women in this country who deserve to have these resources used to their advantage, not against them.
Mr. Brian Masse:
Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the member with regard to the former minister, who flip-flopped, floor crossed over to the Conservatives, and I do it for this specific reason. The work was already underway and was very well progressing down the pipe.
It is important to note that the minister was a star candidate of the member for LaSalle—Émard, the former prime minister. The Liberals had to bring him in to their caucus. He was seen as one of the brightest. I was shocked when the situation evolved. They brought his work to this chamber. They cannot distance themselves from that. To begin with, he came from that sector. He had worked on the file and plenty questions were asked. Therefore, the member and I will have to agree to disagree on that issue.
He mentioned our trading relationships with the United States and how they had improved. That is not true. Even after the deal has been signed, the U.S. has continued to move unilaterally on a number of different trade barriers. The Minister of International Trade should be well aware of these because he tried to cover one up. That was the bioterrorism act that came into play well after we sold out on this.
The bioterrorism act was the unilateral decision by the United States to impose a new tariff on Canadian travellers, trucks and other types of goods and services entering the United States. The minister's department was notified of that. Despite knowing about it two weeks prior to it going public, he did not even bother to contact the trucking association and other groups and organizations to let them know.
This is very serious. It is another unilateral approach to create the conditions where the Americans have more protectionism outside the definitions of NAFTA. It is a tremendous impact because we will literally have goods and other services that will be affected by a new fee. It has also chased off plant expansion and development in Canada. It is seen now as another barrier for business to go through.
I met with the Export Development Canada group. It is working on a new program to help small and medium size companies cope with these changes. However, this is an additional expense for those companies and the taxpayers. They have to support programs like this. We have to deal with this competitiveness.
The border has not changed for the better. In fact, since the deal has been signed, we have seen the militarization of our border. A series of different projects are emerging. We are going to have drone planes, Black Hawk helicopters, fencing and guard posts. The Department of Homeland has a $36 billion security budget that includes everything from studying the feasibility of a fence between Canada and the United States to adding all this military hardware.
We also have the issue of gunboats on the Great Lakes. It is another indication of that militarization.
Therefore, it has not been improving. In fact, the barriers are increasing. What is really disturbing about this is the unilateral approach the United States continues to take on these matters. With the new administration in the United States, in the House of Representatives and the Senate, we have an increased opportunity to hopefully correct these situations.